A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Eric Gagne, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire – pretty good all-star team, or something else in common? Floyd Landis, Michael Phelps, Michael Vick, Adam “Pacman” Jones, and Plaxico Burress can be lumped with the others as well. All of these successful stars were implicated or caught in doing something wrong, doing something dishonest, doing something against the law, something that was not expected of them. Some cheated their way to the top, some participated in illegal actions off the playing field or out of the pool.
It’s not just sports stars either. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of lying about gifts from a contractor. Rod Blagojevich was auctioning off Obama’s senate seat in Illinois. Obama’s original pick for Secretary of Commerce, Bill Richardson, pulled his name out of the running because of an impending investigation into improper business dealings. Obama’s original pick for Secretary of the DHHS, Tom Daschle, pulled his name out of the running over his failure to accurately report and pay income taxes. Obama’s original pick for Chief Performance Officer, Nancy Killefer, pulled her name out because of concerns about her tax returns (as an aside, she previously was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration, led a major modernization of the IRS, and was later appointed to the IRS Oversight Board – how ironic). Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, the person who has authority over the IRS, the institution that Americans every year have to pay taxes to from our hard-earned money from jobs, himself, failed to pay taxes (again, how ironic). He was later confirmed.
And of course, there’s Madoff and just this week, Robert Allen Stanford, who lie, cheat, steal, swindle and commit fraud on their way to their good fortune at the expense of others.
Is there an honest person left?
Three things I encourage you, as a leader, to take away from the actions of these people.
1) Leaders are leaders wherever they are, whether they want to be or not. I am sure Michael Phelps was just trying to have a little fun, “act his age” when he was in South Carolina. But, with one single picture of him doing drugs, endorsements and credibility went out the window. Learn from Phelps. Michael Phelps is Michael Phelps whether he’s in a swimming pool, at a party, anywhere and everywhere. Leaders are the same. Leaders are not just leaders at work in their cubes or offices – they are leaders when they are not at work, when they are in the community, when they are in their place of worship, when they are with their families, even when they think they are alone. Leaders have to act like leaders wherever they are. You never know who is watching.
2) Make the actions of these people become a teachable moment for others, especially your kids. The truth eventually comes out. People can’t cheat their way to the top, to success, to riches. People can’t act like they are “above the law.” There are positive consequences to positive actions, and negative consequences to poor decisions, misjudgments, and unethical and illegal behavior. You can’t get away with something that is wrong.
3) To me, the most striking thing Alex Rodriguez said during his press conference this week addressing his past use of performance-enhancing drugs, was his plea to people that they not judge him for his past actions, but only look at him and judge him from this day forward. Impossible. People just can’t forget the past actions of others, particularly the bad, unethical, or wrong actions. Similarly, people will not forget your past actions as a leader either, good or bad.
I remember where I was when McGwire broke the single season home run record – the pride of watching that moment on television in my dorm room at Emory University with my friends left years later when McGwire said “I’m not here to talk about the past.” I remember where I was when Bonds broke Aaron’s all-time home run record. At the time, I agreed with what columnist and baseball enthusiast George Will said, that Bonds’s 756 was merely a yawn, because Alex Rodriguez would eventually break Bonds’s record, without cheating, without the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs over him like there was and still is with Bonds. Rodriguez was synonymous with a strong work-ethic, honesty, and purity. Was.
That changed over the past week. I am a Braves fan, and still consider Hank Aaron the home run king. I still think it is preposterous that Dale Murphy is not in the Hall of Fame. Those were honest people. So, sorry A-Rod (or as others have labeled him A-Fraud, or A-Roid) and all the others. What you did in the past is part of who you are in the present. We can’t forget your past misdeeds. It just ain’t gonna happen.